Calvinism Resembles Stephen King Horror Novels, while Orthodoxy Reveals Goodness in All Men

The spark of God’s glory shines within the heart of even the most wicked men. Darkness cannot snuff it out. Wickedness cannot defeat it. Sin cannot swallow it up . . .

Stephen King’s novels are famous for their explicit gore. Monsters, murders, rapes, and vengeance are all described in picturesque terms, with an alarming level of alacrity.

In this sense, the Bible is similar to a Stephen King novel. A cursory look through the book of Judges (or even the book of Genesis) will reveal a number of stories about demons, murder, rape, lust, battles, power struggles, and sexual intrigue.

What does John Calvin have in common with Stephen King?

But there is an important difference between Scripture and Stephen King novels. . . . In many of the stories by Stephen King, darkness gets the upper-hand.

In 1408, the evil presence is ultimately inescapable. Either you die an unspeakable death while in the haunted room, or else your exposure to the evil brings about your demise at a later date. The protagonist of the story is one who seems to escape. Yet at the end of the story, he struggles with burns, trauma, heart problems, and emotional issues.  He also gives up writing. The rest of his life is defined by his encounter with evil, and genuine escape is ultimately impossible.

In many of Stephen King's novels, Evil is ultimately triumphant, even though it experiences occasional temporary setbacks.

In Duma Key, the protagonist is left utterly desolate. His marriage, his beloved daughter, and his best friend are irrevocably taken away from him. He has to think long and hard to remember his “last good day”. Even his apparent triumph over the wicked Persephone is tinged with doom . . . he laments that she will eventually escape her watery prison, and that she will practice her evil ways once again. Even if it takes her 1000 years to do so, her eventual release is assumed.

The message is consistent . . . good may gain the upper-hand over evil for a time, but evil will ultimately triumph. If a soul is infected with darkness, all light will eventually be snuffed out, and only the darkness will remain. No matter how good a man is, the sin within him is still stronger.

Scripture agrees that there is no duality. But the reasoning is opposite. According to the Bible, light triumphs over darkness, good triumphs over evil, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church. No matter how evil a man is, the image of God within him still shines through.

The first view echoes the doctrine of Total Depravity, which was one of the central doctrines taught by John Calvin. He taught that evil so courses through the veins of all men, to such a thorough extent that every man is rendered worthless. Twisting Romans 3 out of context, he taught that absolutely no one seeks God in any way, that no one has the ability to respond to God's call, and that all people are therefore naturally without value. No matter how relatively “good” a man may try to be, the sin lying at the root of his heart makes him a depraved being, worthy of nothing but God’s unmitigated wrath and fury. Even in the rare cases when God unilaterally chooses to save such a wretched being, He does it strictly for His own reasons, with no thought whatsoever of any “value” lying within the sinner himself. For this reason, this salvation is called “unconditional election”.

R.C. Sproul, one of the most popular modern teachers of Calvinism, explicitly rejects the idea that "man still has an island of righteousness left in his soul, by which he still can accept or reject God’s offer of grace". According to Sproul, men cannot even desire to be righteous — every man, woman, and child is wicked to the core — and the only ones who will be redeemed, are the lucky few who God unilaterally saves and takes to heaven. As for those who God doesn't want to save, there is no hope for them.

Much of our society has inherited the assumptions of John Calvin’s theology, and Stephen King’s novels are the logical result (The Shawshank Redemption notwithstand­ing). For centuries, the Reformed Churches and their children have been telling us that evil is the single most defining trait of man, and at one level or another, we have fallen for this lie. Even our scary books and horror movies have reflected this base assumption. A person may seek to do good, attempting to rage against the machine, but all such efforts are doomed to be merely temporary. No matter how long it takes, no matter how hard the struggle, the dark seed within will grow, and spread, and overwhelm all competition, until the hapless victim is swallowed up in misery. Without a complete and unilateral intervention from God Himself, a human being is doomed to a vile and worthless existence.

The second view manifests a doctrine which might be termed, “Inescapable Theophany”. It is a doctrine which is precisely the inverse of Total Depravity. While Total Depravity suggests that sin is the natural victor within every man’s heart, the position of Inescapable Theophany holds that the spark of God’s glory shines within the heart of even the most wicked men. Darkness cannot snuff it out. Wickedness cannot defeat it. Sin cannot swallow it up. In such men, the Image of God is like a candle thrust into the vast expanse of a dark cavern. No amount of darkness, gathered together in a single location, can find the collective strength to overwhelm even the smallest of light sources. This is proof that light is always stronger than darkness. When the door of a darkened room is opened, light always floods in, but darkness never floods out.

Light is more powerful than darkness

Of course, we really don’t need to coin the term “Inescapable Theophany”, because a better term has already been provided in Scripture. This term is, simply stated, “the Image of God”. According to Scripture, man retained the Image of God even after the fall, and no amount of sin can snuff out that central fact about man’s existence. According to the ninth chapter of Genesis, this is the very reason why murder is forbidden.

If a sinful man was truly worthless, then it would be very difficult to explain why killing him would be such a bad idea. Mosquitoes are generally considered to be worthless, and a nuisance besides, so killing them is rarely frowned upon. But according to God, a man is not a mosquito. A man may acquire some of the habits of the mosquito, draining his fellow man, irritating him, and generally being a nuisance. But even this man was created in the Image of God, and no matter how much he may sin, he still retains this Image.

It is as if we had a magnificent portrait of the King, caked over with cobwebs and mud and dust. The filth itself may be worthless and offensive, but the portrait remains extremely valuable. Intentional destruction of this portrait would offend the King Himself. So we must not destroy the painting . . . we must clean it off and restore it.

If you honor the King, then you will also honor the image of the King

This is how God views every human being. Each one was created in His Image, and therefore each human is of infinite value. A man does not become worthless, regardless of his guilt. A woman does not become worthless, no matter what she has done.

This is not to say that judgment day will never arrive. (It will.)
This is not to say that every man will survive judgment day. (He won’t.)

Rather, this is to say that the Image of God is of great value, and we dishonor God whenever we fail to recognize this fact. The doctrine of Total Depravity suggests the possibility that “The Image of God” can be “worthless”. This suggestion I heartily reject.

Stephen King imagines a world in which darkness snuffs out light, and where men are irrevocably overcome by an infection of evil which festers and overwhelms from within. Stephen King’s novels manifest an imagined horror which stalks throughout the world, overwhelming all that is holy.

John Calvin’s theology shares Stephen King’s worldview. The doctrine of Total Depravity is the infection of evil which festers and overwhelms from within. And Calvin’s god is the horror itself, which irresistibly creates millions of men and women in a state of misery from which they stand no chance of escaping. For those who are not “elect”, the slow and hideous march of Death ultimately overtakes each soul, like the sadistic work of a vile spirit emerging from the pages of a Stephen King novel.

  • But if man is truly created in the Image of God    (and he is),
  • And if man cannot cease to bear this Image        (and he cannot),
  • And if the Image of God is inherently valuable     (and it is),
  • Then John Calvin’s doctrines cannot be true.
  • And Stephen King’s worldview must be in error as well.

The next time you look at a person . . . any person at all . . . test yourself to see whether you truly believe that man is created in the Image of God.  Look at your brother, look at your sister, and say, “That’s what God is like.”  If you find yourself unable to even whisper those words, then you do not yet believe that all men were created in the Image of God. You do not yet believe the words of Scripture.

But if you can truly say, “That’s what God is like”, and see the Truth of that statement, then you have begun to view your brother as God views him. You have begun to appreciate your sister as God appreciates her. You have begun to value God’s Image truly, even if you simultaneously recognize that His Image has been covered over with much dust and many cobwebs which need to be gently and lovingly removed.

A Calvinist looks at a group of sinful people, and says, “How utterly worthless!
A Christian looks at a group of sinful people, and says, “Behold the pantheon!”

The difference between these two points of view is the difference between day and night. It is the difference between darkness and light. It is the difference between Christ and Satan.

The first person looks at dirty portraits, and sees God nowhere.
The second person looks at dirty portraits, and sees God everywhere.

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